By Grace Lett, Reporter
From being a theater professor at the University of Missouri to a pastor at Columbia’s historic Second Baptist Church, Clyde Ruffin began a new career in politics. Ruffin was elected as First Ward City Council member in 2015 and is running for re-election.
When running for his first term, he considered himself as an outsider since he never had a previous career in politics. Now that it’s his second term he is running for, he says he has more of a practical interpretation of how things can be accomplished.
“The first time I was a little more idealistic,” Ruffin said. “This time I’m a little bit more practical in terms of wanting to see specific things done and the fact that the greatest vision no matter how great, may not be possible right now.”
Prior to his run for the First Ward seat, Ruffin says he was never interested in holding a public office. He said he saw himself as a community organizer that was focused on cultural equality.
Ruffin held a career as a theater professor at MU for 33 years. He was also the founding director of the World Theater Workshop, which was committed to addressing social justice issues.
With the position he was given, he was allowed a platform to create original work that was performed at the Diversity Celebration for several years.
One of the most memorable things he says he has done was bring healing to the Columbia community by honoring the legacy of James T. Scott, who was an African American man falsely accused of rape in 1923. He was lynched in Columbia and buried in the town’s cemetery.
Scott was also a member of Second Baptist Church, where Ruffin currently serves as pastor.
“I just felt like I was in a unique position to tell his story and reconstruct his life,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin grew up in Kansas City, but took a job at Washington University in St. Louis. He came to MU to mediate a conflict with the theater department students and was later offered a full time position at MU’s theater department.
“Theater as an art form is really an exploration of the human experience,” Ruffin said. “So if you’re interested in people and are intrigued by personalities and enjoy life stories that you’re able to create them in a way that the human experience is illuminated. Theater educates, theater inspires, theater leads.”
His passion for education and leading others was what friend and NAACP president, Mary Ratliff, saw in him to run for the First Ward Seat back in 2015.
“I talked to him about his attributes and the fact that he has access to large numbers of people and he’s well known and known to be fair,” Ratliff said. “He’s quick thinking and can make sound judgement.”
Ratliff has a background in politics and was aware of the attributes it took to be a political leader. She felt that he was the best choice.
“Everybody was excited that he would say yes,” Ratliff said. “I wasn’t sure he was going to say yes but I was pleasantly surprised that he agreed to that.”
Ruffin’s charisma and ability to empathize helped him gain support within the community. As he moves into the election process again, he says he knows how leading works and how to be efficient in getting things done. Ruffin says the First Ward is one of the most diverse wards.
“The challenge of the first ward is being able to speak for and to all of that diversity,” Ruffin said.
During his time as the First Ward City Council member, he’s had the opportunity to do various things within the community that he was passionate about.
“I was asked to be the co-chair for the capital campaign to build the expansion of the Boys and Girls club,” Ruffin said. “It’s going to make such a tremendous difference for high school students.”
Ruffin is also the city council representative on the Regional Economic and Development Incorporated board (READY board) which is the agency that is working to bring living wage jobs into the community.
Because of their work, Aurora Organic Dairy will open their second location in Columbia.
“It will guarantee 100 jobs immediately with the absolute lowest salary being about $36,000,” Ruffin said. “They’ve guaranteed that 50 percent will be women, 10 percent will be African American.”
Ruffin remains optimistic about the future of the First Ward.
“It’s a good time to be here we have tremendous challenges this is certainly not utopia, “ Ruffin said. “But to know there are people in city government who’s heart is in the right place and they’re trying, that’s encouraging.”
Updated Mar. 17 2:25 p.m.: Mary Ratliff was incorrectly labeled as former NAACP president.
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